THE PROPHETESS by Evonne Marzouk
Mar 29th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

An Interview with Author, Evonne Marzouk

Buying Links can be found on Goodreads

Book description:

The Prophetess is a boundary-pushing novel about an American teenager called to join a secret community of Jewish prophets. A mystical coming of age story grounded in Jewish tradition, the story features a heroine using super-powers of empathy, insight and intuition — growing into her gifts to protect and empower herself and others. The Prophetess was published October 16, 2019 by Bancroft Press. 

About the Author:

Evonne Marzouk has spent her career in pursuit of inspiring others, making a difference, and bringing Jewish wisdom into the world. She grew up in Philadelphia and began writing and publishing poems and stories as a young child. Evonne attended the Johns Hopkins University and received a B.A. from the Writing Seminars program, with a minor in Religious Studies. Evonne founded and is the former director of Canfei Nesharim (recently merged with GrowTorah), an organization that teaches Jewish wisdom about protecting the environment. Evonne began work for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1999 and has played key roles in work on the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, the Minamata Convention on Mercury, and the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint. Throughout all these activities, publishing a novel has been one of Evonne’s lifelong dreams. She is incredibly grateful, and sometimes amazed, that the moment has finally arrived.

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Question: Did any part of the story’s evolution surprise you as the author

It took me twenty years to write The Prophetess, and the story changed               quite a bit during the process.  One thing I struggled with was how to keep the story inspiring and uplifting, even though it deals with some complex challenges for the main character, Rachel. The story begins with the death of Rachel’s grandfather, and his death has a significant impact on the seventeen-year old teenager. Her grandfather’s death is necessary to the story, but there was another character in the story who I really had to fight to keep alive.  

In my early drafts, I kept finding myself writing death scenes about this important character. At first, it seemed like he had to die.  Originally, he died in the middle of the book; then in later drafts, he died at the end. Though he never would have taken his own life, I think that the character actually wanted to die. But whenever he died, the impact of his death on the story and on Rachel was so tragic that it was nearly impossible for her to recover. 

This character’s death would have made the story easier to tell, and would have had a tragic irony that would make the story memorable. But it would leave readers with much too high a cost for living true to one’s life purpose — and the truth I wanted to share in the story was that we all can grow into our gifts and live our purpose.  I wanted the story to acknowledge that life may be hard, but affirm that it’s worth it in the end.

So I had to work hard to keep this character alive. I had to let him go through his darkest moment and come out redeemed through his suffering; he needed to find a new purpose and accept it for himself. In short, I had to find a way to make it worth it for this character to live. The result was a much more inspiring story and one that I believe still feels authentic and truthful.

In my experience, death is sometimes an easy way for authors to solve problems.  It can remove a character from a situation, and cause profound transformation among other characters.  But because it can cause the reader distress and, in some cases, send the wrong message, it needs to be used carefully.  I hope I was able to strike the right balance with how death is used in The Prophetess.

Please share some novel secrets: 

There are a few secrets in The Prophetess.  I had a little fun with Hebrew names, using the Hebrew names of some people I know or who had a profound impact on me in my Jewish life.  

Also, I was very precise about settings for some of the key places mentioned in the novel. These settings are real and based on specific locations that one could find if one went looking for them. For example, if you stand in a particular street in the Pikesville area of Baltimore, you can see the many trees on a hill that Rachel mentions are always a comfort to her.  There is also a creek that runs through the streets in that part of Pikesville which plays a very important role in Rachel’s evolving relationship with her friend Jake.  I was also very precise about the location at the top of the mountain of Tzfat where Rachel has an important vision about her teacher Yonatan. The layout of the Old City of Jerusalem was also very carefully mapped and described in the story. If readers were inspired by the story, I wanted them to be able to find those locations and experience them as I did.

Bonus Round: What would you prefer?

Coffee Tea or Hot Chocolate? Tea, please.

Winter, spring, summer or fall? Summer. My mother was a teacher and we spent all year looking forward to the summer together. 

Fries, potato chips, popcorn or onion rings? Fries.

Movie at a theater or watch a movie at home? At theater, but I rarely get to, even in more normal times.

Ice cream: chocolate, strawberry or vanilla? Really my preference is something with both chocolate vanilla, like vanilla fudge or chocolate chip cookie dough.

Vacation: Beach, Disney, city with lots of museums, skiing? Beach! 

Interview with children’s book author, Leslie Kimmelman
Mar 26th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Fun Easy Reader Books and A Picture Book to Love!

Leslie encourages readers to buy books from their local Indie bookstores!

To learn more about Leslie’s books, check out her Goodreads page!

Author Leslie Kimmelman with her latest books, Bat and Sloth Hang Around and Bat and Sloth Lost and Found!


Question: Your three new books share one common theme: Animals. Is that coincidence or do you have a particular love for animals? If so, do you have any at home? Answer: I love animals! In my fantasy life, I’m a wildlife photographer. I’ve had dogs my whole life, though actually I am between dogs now. Something I hope to change in the next few months.

Question: Best writing tip for picture books? Answer:  My best tip would be to read your manuscript out loud. It’s very different from just reading them silently to yourself. And it makes you choose words that are more fun to say–and to hear, for the reader.

Bonus Round: What do you prefer?

Books: fantasy, memoir, romance, fiction, sci-fi, horror? I am actually a huge nonfiction reader. These days, in addition, anything that’s funny.

Coffee, tea, hot chocolate? Tea

Movies or music? Music

Vacation on the beach, skiing, visiting museums and sightseeing, staying home? Hard to choose–all of the above! I’m usually game for anything.

Matzoh balls or kreplach? Matzah balls

Chocolate, vanilla or strawberry? CHOCOLATE! 

About Leslie Kimmelman:

From her website: The very first word I learned to read was A-L-L. It was particularly appropriate because from the joyful moment I got my first library card, my goal was to read every single book in the children’s section. Books were magical to me. I still feel that way.

When I was in college in a small New England town, a young woman came to speak as part of an alumni career day. She lived in the unknown, glamorous, and slightly intimidating New York City. She talked about her career as an editor at a publishing house where, she told us, she got to read books all day long.

It was one of those aha! moments. After graduation, I moved to New York City and began my publishing career. I spent many happy years as a children’s book editor at various publishing houses. It took me a while to get used to reading on the job; at first, anytime someone walked by my desk, I’d guiltily try to hide my reading material. Then I’d remember that I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing! The more I read on the job, the more I realized I wanted to write my own books. After a few false starts, my first book, Frannie’s Fruits, was published in 1989.

Eventually, I became the senior editor and writer for Sesame Street Magazine, where I stayed for many years. I now work part-time as an editor at Sesame Street Books and the rest of the time from home as a freelance writer and editor. I live in a small town outside New York City, where my husband and I have brought up two children and two dogs. I still read everything I can get my hands on–and write stories and poems that, I hope, help introduce children to the magic of books. Find her on Facebook!

Leslie with her new picture book, Worse and WORSE on Noah’s Ark

Iphigenia Murphy by Sara Hosey
Mar 25th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

An Interview with Iphigenia Murphy author, Sara Hosey

Published March 10, 2020 by Blackstone Publishing

Buying Links: Find them all at Blackstone Publishing

About Iphigenia Murphy from Goodreads: Running away from home hasn’t solved Iphigenia Murphy’s problems. In fact, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll catch up with her. Iffy is desperate to find her long-lost mother, and, so far, in spite of the need to forage for food and shelter and fend off an unending number of creeps, living in Queens’ Forest Park has felt safer than living at home. But as the summer days get shorter, it all threatens to fall apart.

A novel that explores the sustaining love of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and the indelible bond of family, Iphigenia Murphy captures the gritty side of 1992 Queens, the most diverse borough in New York City. Just like Iffy, the friends she makes in the park–Angel, a stray dog with the most ridiculous tail; Corinne, a young trans woman who is escaping her own abusive situation; and Anthony, a former foster kid from upstate whose parents are addicts–each seek a place where they feel at home. Whether fate or coincidence has brought them together, within this community of misfits Iffy can finally be herself, but she still has to face the effects of abandonment and abuse–and the possibility that she may be pregnant. During what turns out to be a remarkable journey to find her mother, will Iffy ultimately discover herself?


Question: Share a novel secret.

A central character in Iphigenia Murphy is Angel, a big pit-bull-and-maybe-chow mix that Iffy meets in Forest Park. Angel is based on a dog that I used to love, whose name was also Angel and who also got lost in Forest Park.

My partner and I adopted our Angel from a shelter when we were living in an apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens. Angel had been in the shelter for almost a year. She was hard to place because she was skittish and often feinted or snapped her jaws at you if you tried to pet her. As far as I know, she never actually bit anyone, but you can imagine that she wasn’t winning any popularity contests with prospective adopters.

But Jess and I both loved her immediately and we felt up to the challenge of living with a difficult dog. We didn’t have kids at the time and the shelter folks said Angel was a mature and pretty low-energy dog, well-suited to apartment-living. And so she came home with us. She was so nervous that she didn’t eat for the first 3 days. We left spoonfuls of peanut butter on the floor of the apartment, trying to tempt her. She didn’t poo or pee, either, and we walked her endlessly, trying to get her to relax enough to go. 

A few weeks in, our Angel calmed down. She started to become the dog we knew she could be: relaxed, gentle, happy. Unlike Angel in the novel, our Angel was never overly-affectionate; she’d never jump into your lap. But our Angel would allow a snuggle on the couch or would curl up at the bottom of the bed to sleep on our feet.

When we moved from the apartment to a house, Angel got a backyard. And while she seemed to settled in at the new place quickly, she got out of the yard one day when we were having some work done. A neighbor saw her loose on the street and said that she’d been scared by some construction on the block and had taken off running.

We never saw Angel again.

We put signs up on every corner. We walked, biked, and drove around the neighborhood calling her name. I spent a lot of time searching for her in nearby Forest Park—I’d heard that stray dogs often found their way there—and I even left one of my dirty tee-shirts on a hiking trail, hoping she’d be drawn to the scent and stay nearby until I could find her. 

One day, a man who’d seen our fliers called to say that he’d seen Angel in the park. He said that Angel was with a woman who appeared to be homeless, who was pushing a shopping cart full of cans. I cycled through relief and fear: I was so happy Angel was alive, that she hadn’t bitten anyone, that she had found a person to care for her, but I was also so worried about both of them, especially if they were homeless. I worried about this person who was watching out for my dog. I hoped that there was someone watching out for her.

While Angel in Iphigenia Murphy is drawn from my Angel, she also contains some characteristics of my current dog, Jenny. Jenny is much more rambunctious than Angel. Whenever Angel in the book paws at someone for attention or leaps at them playfully, that’s Jenny. Angel never really had enough confidence to play like that with humans, which of course breaks my heart. We don’t know what happened to her before we met her and we don’t know what happened to her after. I can only hope that she found herself an Iffy: someone who would love her deeply and unconditionally, who would take care of her, no matter the cost, and would allow herself to be cared for in return.

Question: On your website, you shared some of your own experiences and the experiences of people you know and the behavior of sexual predators toward young women who specifically attend Catholic private schools. What lesson would you like to impart on young women who may be targeted in this way?

The first time I remember being catcalled, I was probably 13 or 14 years old. When I ask other women and girls about how old they were the first time a stranger made a suggestive or lewd remark to them about their bodies, they generally report that they were of a similar—if not younger—age. 

I think it is important to talk about age because brings into focus the power imbalance that much harassment depends on and exploits. Think of it this way: an adult man tells a 13-year old girl, who is alone on the subway platform, that she has nice tits. 

Putting it this way demonstrates that harassment is not a compliment. It is a reminder to that girl of her own vulnerability. It communicates to her that she is not safe in the world. 

And don’t tell me that men do it because girls look older than they are. I looked 13In short skirts and with lipstick on, 14 year-olds still look 14-years old. Being young and vulnerable, for many men, apparently, is part of the attraction.

As I write on my blog, I grew up in a very specific context: in the 90s in Queens, New York. I rode public transportation daily and, in high school, I wore the Catholic school uniform. For me and for many of my classmates, street harassment was a given. It was the price we paid for leaving the house.

Sadly, I’m aware that street harassment has not gone away, that girls who are coming-of-age today are still experiencing a lot of the same stuff. However, I do know many young people of all genders who are absolutely intolerant of this behavior and are actively combatting it, whether that means calling it out among their friends or standing up to harassers. (Standing up to harassers, of course, is not something that is always the right thing to do). 

But most importantly, what I have learned and what many of my younger feminist friends are continuing to teach me is that harassment is not the victim’s fault or responsibility. It sounds obvious, but many of us internalized the idea that being harassed was shameful. We didn’t ask for help on the subways or tell our parents about our creepy bosses. And part of that has to do with the ways we already over-monitor girls’ movement and freedom: if I had told my parents what happened on the trains or at my part-time job, I wouldn’t be allowed to take public transportation, my freedom of movement would have been curtailed, and I wouldn’t have been allowed to work anymore. I would have had to pay the price for someone else’s behavior. 

But again, I see younger folks rejecting this misplacement of guilt and it’s something that I would want young women who continue to experience harassment to know. We are not the ones who should be ashamed. The men who do this to us are the ones who should be ashamed.

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Laundry, dishes, dusting, vacuuming?

I prefer living in filth, but I suppose finishing a load of laundry is sometimes rewarding.

Flying, sailing, walking, driving?


Movies at home or movies in a theater?

I love the movies at the theater.

As my partner will tell you, I am incapable of watching a movie at home. We’ll watch 20 minutes before I want to pause it to talk about what we’ve seen or to run an errand or to return to some task on my to-do list. 

I think this happens even when I really like the movie. It’s possible I like to draw things out and make them last longer. I don’t know. I haven’t really examined this impulse and I don’t think I want to. Especially because once the theaters are open again, I plan to go to all the movies. I love the movies in the theater. 

Not only do I happily sit through the whole film, I also buy huge tubs of popcorn. This, I’ve found, is one of the best parts of being an adult. My family rarely went to the movies when I was a kid and if we did we popped our own popcorn and brought it from home. We were told that movie theater popcorn was too expensive. And it definitely is. But maybe that’s why it tastes so good? 

Peas, carrots, brussel sprouts, spinach?

I am not a vegetable person at all. Is it an Irish-American thing? Maybe. I come from a long line of not-great cooks. We boil our veggies until they are mushy and the color of chewed bubble gum and then maybe add a dash of salt. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

However. I will eat spinach if you put a ton of butter on it.

Watch baseball, football, soccer, tennis, ice skating or gymnastics?

Although I find basketball irresistible, I stopped watching it about ten years ago when I realized that John Starks wasn’t ever coming out of retirement. 

About Sara Hosey:

A native New Yorker, I have never lived in Manhattan or even Brooklyn. Instead, I’ve moved around quite a bit in Queens, living at times in Flushing, Long Island City, Jackson Heights, and Richmond Hill. Although I recently surrendered to Long Island, I think my family and I will someday return again to Queens. It’s my heart’s home.

I did leave New York a couple of times in my twenties, going to college in Washington D.C. and then to graduate school in Madison, Wisconsin, where I got my Ph.D. in American Literature. I struggled through some difficult times in Wisconsin, which is maybe why I sometimes remember those years so fondly; in many ways, my time in Wisconsin revealed to me who I was and who I wanted to be. My life also profoundly changed for the better when I met Jess, my partner, standing outside a Halloween party one late night in Madison.

I’ve been a professor at Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York for over a decade.  I teach English and for several years I ran the Women and Gender Studies program. It has been one of the great privileges of my life to work closely with my students at NCC, especially those in my WST classes and in the WSA, many of whom have inspired the work I’ve done in Iphigenia Murphy.

I have a second young adult novel in the works—title to be determined. This book looks at the human predisposition to cruelty and conformity as well as the strength and courage it can take to stand up against a crowd. I’ve also been working on a novella and I have several short stories that I can’t stop revising, although I do hope to have them out in the world soon.

Finally, my academic book, Home is Where the Hurt Is: Media Depictions of Wives and Mothers was published by McFarland Press in October 2019.

Website | Twitter

BREAK THE FALL by Jennifer Iacopelli
Mar 24th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

An Interview With Author, Jennifer Iacopelli

Buying links: IndieBound | Amazon | B & N | Audible |Book Depository

Book description from Goodreads:

Audrey Lee is going to the Olympics.

A year ago, she could barely do a push up as she recovered from a spine surgery, one that could have paralyzed her. And now? She’s made the United States’ gymnastics team with her best friend, Emma, just like they both dreamed about since they were kids. She’s on top of the world.

The pressure for perfection is higher than ever when horrifying news rips the team apart. Audrey is desperate to advocate for her teammate who has been hurt by the one person they trusted most–but not all the gymnasts are as supportive.

With the team on the verge of collapse, the one bright spot in training is Leo, her new coach’s ridiculously cute son. And while Audrey probably (okay, definitely) shouldn’t date him until after the games, would it really be the end of the world?

Balancing the tenuous relationship between her teammates with unparalleled expectations, Audrey doesn’t need any more distractions. No matter what it takes, she’s not going to let anyone bring them down. But with painful revelations, incredible odds, and the very real possibility of falling at every turn, will Audrey’s determination be enough?


Question: Will you share a novel secret? Answer: Audrey, the main character in BREAK THE FALL, is actually the closest character I’ve ever written to myself. There are some concrete similarities: we’re both from Queens, New York, we’re both Yankees fans and we’d both die from embarrassment if we ran into Aaron Judge, the Yankees right fielder, looking like a shlub. But she’s also the first Ravenclaw main character I’ve ever written. I always sort my characters to help determine how they’d react in certain situations and Audrey is extremely cerebral. She takes things in and while she has a Gryffindor-esque dedication to doing the right thing (which we share) we tend to approach that right thing from a logical, thoughtful place rather than just rushing into danger. 

Question: What was the most challenging part about writing this book and what was the easiest? Answer: The most challenging part of the book was weighing the balance between creating a deep and realistic world of elite gymnastics with all the terminology and vernacular that comes with that world and the reality that most readers wouldn’t understand the difference between a Amanar or a Tsukahara. I tried to slowly build the gymnastics terminology as the story went along, putting in touchstones for a novice gymnastics fan that would help them identify between “hard” and “easy” things on the page without the aid of them being able to actually see any of it. 
The easiest part was deciding how often the man who abused one of the athletes was on the page and that was basically not at all. Readers can be assured that the story centers the survivors and their allies and the abuse itself is never on the page and the abuser has very limited page time.
Bonus Round: What do you prefer?
Fries, potato chips, popcorn, or onion rings?
POTATO CHIPS. I love potato chips so much a friend actually gave me a big family sized bag to me as a gag birthday present when I was 12.
Music or movies?
MOVIES. Or wait, can I cheat and say TV? I think TV series are the ideal medium for storytelling in general. It can play to nearly all the senses all at once with enough flexibility for long-term storytelling that can be limited or extended based upon the stories’ needs. 
Fast-food restaurant or cooking at home?
I don’t like cooking, but I prefer the food that I cook to fast food, so I suppose cooking at home.
Books: Memoir, YA, historical fiction, romance, fiction, sci-fi, MG, other?
Right now, in the midst of a global pandemic, I’ve been falling back to old favorites, mostly romance novels! 
High heels, flip-flops, boots, tennis shoes, or sandals?

About Jennifer:

Jennifer Iacopelli was born in New York and has no plans to leave, ever. Growing up, she read everything she could get her hands on, but her favorite authors were L.M. Montgomery and Frances Hodgson Burnett, both of whom wrote about kick-butt girls before it was cool for girls to be kick-butt. As a high school librarian, she frolics all day with her students, books and computers and writes at night while cheering on her beloved Yankees. Twitter and Instagram! To learn more, check out her website.

THE VOICE THAT WON THE VOTE: How One Woman’s Words Changed History
Mar 22nd, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

An Interview With Author, Elisa Boxer

Published March 15, 2020 by Sleeping Bear Press

Quote from Booklist review: 
“Boxer’s writing makes this moment in history come alive”

Buying links and social media: Website | For signed copies: The Print Bookstore | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Have a peek inside. Illustrations by Vivien Mildenberger


Questions: Is there any behind-the-scenes information you can share with us about this book?

Answer: I think the most important behind-the-scenes information has to do with the message that I decided very early on that I wanted children to take away from the book. That message is that their voices matter. I grew up feeling pretty powerless, and have naturally been drawn to stories of unsung heroes like Febb Burn, the mother who saved suffrage with a single letter she wrote to her son. She wasn’t anyone famous before she expressed herself, and yet her words changed the course of history. So I want her story to inspire children to know how significant they are; how powerful they are; and how much each of their voices matter.

Question: What was the most challenging or rewarding part about writing this picture book?

Answer: If you had asked me a week ago about the most challenging part, I would likely have given you a different answer. Because now, the most challenging part is releasing during a global pandemic! So thank you for helping us boost our books with these interviews! As for the most rewarding part, gosh, there have been so many. I’d have to say all of the firsts: First book contract, first call with my editor, first peek at Vivien Mildenberger’s illustrations, first time I opened a box with my books inside, first time I held The Voice That Won the Vote in my hands, first time I signed one of my own books, and the first time my son read my dedication to him.

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Folding laundry or doing dishes? Laundry. It’s one of my favorite procrastination chores, since I still feel productive 🙂

Elisa Boxer

Fries, potoato chips or onion rings? Fries! With tons of sea salt.

Books: memoir, fiction, fantasy, romance, sci-fi, women’s lit, Historical fiction – middle grade and young adult

Music or movie: Big Star Wars fan. And anything from the 80s with Molly Ringwald.

Winter, spring, summer or fall? Spring! Fall is a close second.

Elisa signing copies of her book!

Interview with YA author, Betty Culley, THREE THINGS I KNOW ARE TRUE
Mar 19th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Meet Betty Culley, author of THREE THINGS I KNOW ARE TRUE

About this novel from Goodreads:

This moving debut novel in verse about a teenage girl dealing with the aftermath of an accident that nearly takes her brother’s life is a stunning exploration of grief and the power of forgiveness.

The reminder is always there—a dent on the right side of Jonah’s forehead. The spot you’d press when you felt a headache coming on. The bullet tore away bone, the way dynamite blasts rock—leaving a soft crater.

Life changes forever for Liv when her older brother, Jonah, accidentally shoots himself with his best friend Clay’s father’s gun. Now Jonah needs round-the-clock care just to stay alive, and Liv seems to be the only person who can see that her brother is still there inside his broken body.

With Liv’s mom suing Clay’s family, there are divisions in the community that Liv knows she’s not supposed to cross. But Clay is her friend, too, and she refuses to turn away from him—just like she refuses to give up on Jonah.

Buying Links: Find all on HarperCollins Publishing

Q & A:

Question: Share a novel secret. Special location. The cover image is of a river and there is a river brushstroke design throughout the novel. I got a lot of inspiration from going to the Kennebec River here in Maine. It runs through many of the towns near where I live. I visited it in different seasons to see the changes. Especially the eddy- the bend in the river- which plays a big part in the book.
Question: What was your favorite part about writing and the most challenging part? My favorite part was writing in verse. One of my critique partners suggested that and once I started it felt like the perfect form for the story.  For the challenging part, some of the research was challenging, but I was lucky to have very knowledgeable sensitivity readers. 

Bonus Questions: What do you prefer?

Fries, potato chips, popcorn, or onion rings? Answer: Chips
City, suburb, small town, farm, or lakeside home? Answer: Farm
Fast-food restaurant or cooking at home? Answer: Cooking at home
Books: Memoir, YA, historical fiction, romance, fiction, sci-fi, MG, other? Answer: Memoir, YA, MG, fiction, poetry
High heels, flip-flops, boots, tennis shoes, or sandals? Answer: Depends on the day, sandals during the short time it’s warm enough for them in Maine!

Betty Culley’s social media links: Website | Instagram | Twitter

Photo of the eddy on the Kennebec River

PIRATE QUEEN: A Story of Zheng Yi Sao, an Interview with Author Helaine Becker
Mar 18th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Interview with Award-winning Author, Helaine Becker

Pub date: March 1, 2020 Groundwood Books

Buying Links: IndieBound | Powell’s |Book Depository | Amazon | Audible | B & N


Question: Why did you want to write about Zheng Yi Sao? Answer: When I first learned her story, I was gobsmacked. WHY DON’T WE KNOW ABOUT HER??? How could I NOT write about her after learning this incredible story? 

Question: What kind of research went into this book? Answer: The amount of research and fact-checking that went into this book was enormous. This is often the case with kids’ nonfiction – it tends to be better fact checked than most adult books. I had to leave out some of the good stuff though – – like her ‘unconventional’ love triangle with her husband and his adopted son. Who later became her second husband. Ahem.

Question: Anything else you would like to share? Answer: I did not write this book to inspire girls, although I sure would have liked to know about Zheng Yi Sao when I was a kid. This is a book for all of us, so we stop perpetuating and reperpetuating the myth that women “can’t” and women “didn’t” do cool and daring and brilliant and groundbreaking stuff. We did, and we can, and we need to make sure everybody knows so they stop holding us back.  I’ve written four+ biographies about amazing women lately, and I’m getting tired of writing the same crappy “but they wouldn’t let her, even though she was clearly head and shoulders more capable than…” lines over and over again. 

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Socks or no socks? Socks are for suckers.

Coffee, tea, or hot chocolate? Espresso. I would bathe in it if I could.

Cat, dog, bird or no pets? Dogs. We recently lost our doggo and I am feeling bereft. 

Sport you would enjoy watching: football, basketball, soccer, tennis, ice-skating, gymnastics? I did ice dancing for several years and still like to watch a good ice skating show. In terms of team sports, I went to Duke so I’m a huge Basketball fan, but only in March (And I hate the pro leagues). I have always loved baseball but am beyond fed up with the greed and corruption of all major sports. So I’ll stick to watching kids play t ball at the local park from now on. And dog agility competitions – those the great fun.

Books: fantasy, memoir, historical fiction, sci-fi, romance, fiction? Of course you had me at “books.” But right now I’m deep into fantasy, since I’m writing one;  and historical fiction, and funny stuff, and art, since I’m big into painting and honing my own drawing skills now.

About Helaine Becker:

Helaine Becker is an award-winning writer of books for children. She has written over 90 books, including the best-selling picture books, A Porcupine in a Pine Tree, Deck the Halls, and Dashing Through the SnowYou Can ReadandSloth at the Zoompopular non-fiction, including Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13, Megabugs,Worms for BreakfastHubotsZoobotsMonster Science and Don’t Stress!; and novels including GottikaDirk Daring, Secret Agent, and How to Survive Absolutely Anything.

She also writes for children’s magazines and for kids television. She has written four seasons of Dr. Greenie’s Mad Lab, a segment on Planet Echo, an environmental science show, and is hard at work on several other projects.

Helaine is a popular presenter and performer at schools internationally. She was selected  to tour four times for Canadian Children’s Book Week (Yukon in 2006, Nunavut in 2008, and Manitoba in 2014 and Montreal in 2019). She has presented at Vancouver Writers Fest, Tucson Festival of Book, IFOA, the Orange County (California) Children’s Festival, the Festival of Women Writers, Frye Fest, Weaving Words, and other major venues. She has also been the keynote speaker at SCBWI Canada East’s regional conference in 2016. She presents to kids AND to writers, teaching writing skills re: fiction, non-fiction, verse and the business side of writing. 

Both an American and Canadian citizen, Ms. Becker attended high school in New York and graduated cum laude from Duke University in another century. She is married, with two sons, and is an active swimmer, runner, cyclist, and compulsive read-aholic.  She has an orange belt in karate and is contemplating going for her grapefruit belt. 

Helaine loves bright shiny colorful things, especially happy faces and flowers. She is crazy about fluffy dogs, coral reefs,  ice cream and color-changing nailpolish.

Connect with Helaine Becker on Social Media: Website | Twitter

Interview with THE CHALLAH GIRL author, Bracha K. Sharp
Mar 17th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

The Challah Girl, Published by Mosaica Press

The Challah Girl is a 2019 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards SILVER MEDALIST Award Winner, for the ” Best First Book–Picture Book” Category

Buying Guide: Feldheim | Mosaica Press |Amazon | The Jewish Museum

Author Links: Website |Goodreads


Question: Any secrets behind writing this book or included in the novel that no one would know just by picking it up?
Answer: There are probably too many to count–but that’s often something that can make writing so much fun for an author, in the first place! For example, almost everyone who has read the book has interpreted the story, its messages, its themes, and its storyline, based on their own life experiences, understandings, and connections to Zlatah Leah’s journey. 

However, it’s usually quite surprising to me, because through the feedback that they have given me, I’ve come to see just how many layers of insights keep on being uncovered! 

I definitely have little literary or other references in the book, mainly for myself, because it is fun to look back on them and to pick up on that, numerous times, but I am always delighted when someone understands them, adds to them in new ways, to create a greater resonance of depth within the book’s storyline, or simply enjoys hearing some of my motivations for certain details, too!

All that being said, here are a few of the main details that might be interesting and that might not be picked up on, at first glance!

–Zlatah Leah’s name was inspired by many things and a few of these inspirations are: the Russian fairytale heroine, in “Vasilisa the Beautiful/Brave,” the translation of “Zlatah,”in this case, meaning “golden” as a reference to her hair color and how she stands out in her own, unique way, and her second name, Leah, which was inspired by Leah, one of our Foremothers, whose prayers were so deep and full of meaning. 

In combining these two names, I wanted her character to reflect the good qualities of both of her namesakes’ traits–but it also allowed her to have her own unique, strong, and compassionate characteristics, as well.

–I was inspired, in part, by a lesser-known variant of the “Cinderella” tale-type, called “Donkeyskin.” I took the donkey element from that story and gave Zlatah Leah an actual “animal helper” to guide her to the palace. Her tears were inspired by the Brothers Grimm “Cinderella” tale, but unlike the tears in that story or the signature ring from “Donkeyskin,” they instead became the outer manifestation of her inner prayers, which led her to help heal the prince. 

I wanted to turn that lesser-known variant of the “Cinderella” tale-type around, and so, instead of focusing on the disintegration of the family unit which the young woman in that story faces, it was important to me to give Zlatah Leah the exact opposite. 

From that strong family and community unit that she is always surrounded by, Zlatah Leah is thus able to travel through the woods and to the palace, to try to heal the prince–from the kindness of her heart and of her own volition!

–Probably one of the nicest things about this picture book’s creation is that it was inspired by one of my college English professor’s lectures and classes. During the time when the inspiration for this story came to me, I had taken a former college class not too long before, on the psychology of fairy tales and their meanings. That class was called “Literature of the Self” and until my classmates and I took it, we didn’t actually know that we would be discussing and reading fairy tales!

So, fairy tales and their meanings were writ large in my mind during that time, and afterwards, when I was working at a small Judaica shop, where one of the most popular items that we sold were challahs, my supervisor happened to come by and said, “Oh, you’re such a challah girl!” As soon as she said that, Divine Inspiration hit–and I pretty much then-and-there decided to combine both of these inspirations into the basis for my own, original Jewish fairytale!
There are always more hidden references that I am constantly remembering are in my picture book, and there are also many more personal associations that some of the people who have read the book have shared with me, but the examples given here comprise most of the core inspirations that have shaped “The Challah Girl” and its transition from written ideas to published book!

Question: Does the book have a challah recipe in it? If so, can you share it?
Answer: It certainly does! Here’s Zlatah Leah’s very own recipe. Enjoy!

Bonus Round: What do you prefer?

1. winter, summer, spring or fall? Spring, most of the time, for sure!
2. kreplach or matzah balls? Matzah balls
3. spinach, peas, or corn? Spinach, with peas as a close second
4. Reading a book or going for a walk? Both–because I often get my inspiration for new stories, poems, and so on, from both activities, and both of them are also quite nice to do, too! (However, I have been advised against reading whilst walking, although both are good to do–but probably at different times! 😉 )

FOR SPACIOUS SKIES: Katharine Lee Bates and the inspiration for “America the Beautiful”
Mar 16th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

An Interview with Author Nancy Churnin about FOR SPACIOUS SKIES: Katharine Lee Bates and the Inspiration for “America the Beautiful”

Pub date: April 1, 2020, Albert Whitman & Co

Interbang Books | Express Booksellers | Amazon | B & N

“Churnin tells that story in a spare and lively text beautifully complemented by double-page spreads highlighting Baumert’s gorgeous panoramic illustrations…A handsome volume befitting its subject.” — Kirkus Reviews

“This picture book biography about a strong, smart woman and her contribution to American culture is a strong choice for elementary libraries.”– School Library Journal

“The story ends on a high note in 1920, with Bates casting her ballot after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted voting rights to women… The richly colored, nicely composed artwork will help children visualize the period setting while enjoying the portrayals of Bates and beautiful landscapes. A picture-book biography of a notable American.”—Booklist

“Nancy Churnin has written a delightful book that helps children understand the many dimensions of my great-aunt Katharine Lee Bates. This book does an excellent job conveying her ardent passion for equal rights and for her country. She was a poet, a professor, and a world traveler, but she was first and foremost a citizen who loved America, in all its beauty and diversity.”–Katharine Lee Holland

Q & A:

Question: Why did you want to share Katharine’s story?

Answer: There is so much confusion and conflict about what patriotism is. Katharine Lee Bates, who wrote one of our most patriotic songs, “America the Beautiful,” goes to the heart of what it truly is. Her scrupulously sculpted words are not just about how beautiful America is, but how beautiful America can be if we crown our good “with brotherhood/From sea to shining sea.” To me, that is true patriotism — not just loving your country, but helping your country live up to her ideals of equality and kindness. Katharine was a little girl during the Civil War, when Americans hated and hurt each other during conflict and for years afterward.  A minister’s daughter and fierce advocate for help and support for the poor as well as equal rights for women, she gave the song to America for free, as a gift, hoping to inspire fellow Americans to see themselves as part of one, inclusive family. Most people don’t know the name Katharine Lee Bates and I wanted kids to know the name of this extraordinary woman who refused to accept the limitations that women were given in her time and went on to get an education, become a poet and professor, live an independent life in a world of women and leave the world a better place.

Question: What should people know that wasn’t included in this book?

Answer: As much as I tried, given the length and thematic constraints of a picture book, I couldn’t find a way to cram in that she also wrote “Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride,” a poem about MRS. SANTA CLAUS! The female empowerment is wonderful as is the creation of Mrs. Claus. Ironically, Mrs. Claus saves the day by mending holes in stockings so that the toys don’t fall out. The irony, of course, is that Katharine hated sewing so much that when she was given dolls as a child she would just plaster leaves on them for clothes rather than sew fabric together. I think Goody Santa Claus was a tribute to her widowed mother, who took in sewing as well as laundry, to help make the money that allowed Katharine to go to school.

Bonus round:

Winter, spring, summer, or fall? Spring because my birthday is in spring and spring is about beginnings, new buds opening, each one like a new story starting. Also, spring leads in to summer, where children have more time to play and then fall, another time of beginnings — of school and learning and, of course, the Jewish New Year.

Matzah balls or kreplach? Matzah balls — my comfort food.

Music or movies? Music — all kinds, with a special nod to Broadway musicals.

Books: horror, biography, fiction, sci-fi, romance, memoir or fantasy? Fantasy — because the heart and mind need to play.

Coffee, tea, or hot chocolate? Hot chocolate is one of my basic food groups.

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